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Washington Lawyer

DLG, FDR, WSC and Volume VII

From Washington Lawyer, November 2014

By Jacob A. Stein

spectatorWhat follows is a conversation I had years ago with a retired English barrister, H. Montgomery Hyde. He happened into my office one day when he had time to kill before meeting a friend for lunch at the Mayflower Hotel. He knew my office was across the street from the Mayflower, so he thought he would drop by, “to just kill time.”

He looked around and observed no windows, just books. On one of the bookshelves he saw the complete collection of Winston S. Churchill’s speeches, all eight big thick volumes, from 1897 to 1963.

He walked over and picked from the shelf volume VII and said, turning the pages, that there is an interesting coincidence in that book. In it are Churchill’s two eulogies in the House of Commons, the first, David Lloyd George on March 28, 1945, and the second, close by, on April 17, 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The two were the most important people in Churchill’s life.

Lloyd George has now been long forgotten. Born in 1863, he was a Welshman from a poor family. His father died a year after Lloyd George was born, and his uncle, a shoemaker, provided the family needs.

Nevertheless, Lloyd George became a lawyer, and by the way, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was also a lawyer. Lloyd George and Roosevelt left the law practice and went on to careers in politics.

Lloyd George became the British Prime Minister in World War I, and after the war, he represented Britain at the Peace Convention in 1919.

In World War I, he helped Churchill get the highest position in the British Navy. In that position, Churchill conceived a plan to shorten the war by an attack called the Dardanelles. Others at high levels warned against it. Nevertheless, Churchill proceeded on and the men, guns, and ships failed. This, it seemed, put Churchill’s career at an end. He left his post and went into the trenches in France. Gradually, as things changed, he returned again to high places through Lloyd George’s help.

Montgomery Hyde read from this volume VII, Churchill’s eulogistic remembrance of Lloyd George:

. . . [Lloyd George’s] swift, penetrating, comprehensive mind was always grasping at the root, or what he thought to be the root, of every question. His eye ranged ahead of the obvious. He was always hunting in the field beyond. I have often heard people come to him with a plan, and he would say “That is all right, but what happens when we get over the bridge? What do we do then?”

* * *

I have already written about him at this time, when I watched [Lloyd George] so closely and enjoyed his confidence and admired him so much, and I have recorded two characteristics of his which seemed to me invaluable in those days: first, his power to live in the present yet without taking short views; and secondly, his power of drawing from misfortune itself the means of future success. . . .

Montgomery Hyde then turned a few pages and read (from the same volume) Churchill’s eulogy of Roosevelt:

I conceived an admiration for [FDR] as a statesman, a man of affairs, and a war leader. I felt the utmost confidence in his upright, inspiring character and outlook, and a personal regard for him beyond my power to express today. His love of his own country, his respect for its constitution, his power of gauging the tides and currents of its mobile public opinion, were always evident, but, added to these, were the beatings of that generous heart which was always stirred to anger and to action by spectacles of aggression and oppression by the strong against the weak. It is, indeed, a loss, a bitter loss to humanity that those heartbeats are stilled forever.

President Roosevelt’s physical affliction lay heavily upon him. It was a marvel that he bore up against it through all the many years of tumult and storm. Not one man in ten millions, stricken and crippled as he was, would have attempted to plunge into a life of physical and mental exertion and of hard, ceaseless political controversy . . . In this extraordinary effort of the spirit over the flesh, of will power over physical infirmity, he was inspired and sustained by that noble woman, his devoted wife, whose high ideals marched with his own, and to whom the deep and respectful sympathy of the House of Commons flows out today in all fullness.

After these readings, Montgomery Hyde said that in World War II when Churchill was prime minister, there was talk that Lloyd George was envious of Churchill’s position. Lloyd George was criticizing the way Churchill was running the war. As these rumors were circulating, Churchill invited Lloyd George in and offered him an ambassadorship to the United States. Lloyd George declined the invitation. The gossip was that Churchill wanted Lloyd George out of the way as soon as possible, and sending him to the United States was the remedy. Churchill was heard to say to friends that, as always, Lloyd George played the principal and he, Churchill, the student.

If this story is of particular interest, read up on Hyde’s remarkable career as a writer, a lawyer, and a part-time spy.

Reach Jacob A. Stein at jstein@steinmitchell.com.